Magazine Reviews Yarnell Firefighter Deaths

Yarnell hill fire from the south

The Yarnell Fire began on Jun. 28, 2013 from a lightning strike. U.S. Forest Service photo.

It’s been almost a year since 19 members of the Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew perished near Yarnell, Arizona, the largest wildland firefighter death toll in 80 years. “Fire on the Mountain” (The Atlantic, June 2014) recalls the last days of the crew members and reviews the weather conditions at the time, when a lightning storm, extreme drought, wind, and an area unburned for half a century made a deadly combination.

In the aftermath, a fire chief pondering why the team acted as it did, said, “They wanted to reengage. Sure, they could sit up there in the black. But if they could try to get back in the game, they were going to. What they had been doing was lost. And that happens a lot. You put a day’s worth of work into something, and all of the sudden it’s gone, and you have to have a new starting point somewhere. There’s a lot of sweat and expended energy. So what do we do, just sit up here and watch it go by? They knew there was an evacuation going on; they knew there were people staying in their houses. So what would the public think? ‘You’re not going to help us? Why did you even show up?’ ”

The role of wildland firefighting strategy, the expanding wildland-urban interface, and climate change are considered in the development of ever-larger, hotter-burning wildfires.

“Fires larger than 100,000 acres used to be an anomaly, but not anymore: eight burned in the 2013 fire season alone. Had such conditions existed a thousand years ago, we’d probably have no great forests in the western United States today…Fires regulate themselves when they burn without interference. But they can’t burn now the way they would have a couple of centuries ago, or even a couple of decades ago, because today 44 million homes are spread across what’s known as the wildland-urban interface.”

See the entire article HERE.

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